NMIS-led consortium set to develop new hybrid DED 3D printing technology

An additive manufacturing consortium including Airbus, Safran Landing Systems, and the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS) has started working on a new hybrid directed energy deposition (DED) 3D printing process for the aerospace sector.

The ‘Hybrid Direct Energy Deposition Sprint’ project ultimately aims to provide a more sustainable route to aerospace part production by way of 3D printing. Aiming to overcome the challenges that conventional manufacturing firms currently face, the new Hybrid DED process will reportedly address a number of issues related to manufacturing costs and lead times.

Funded by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) and supported by the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, the joint project also includes Cranfield University, the Northern Ireland Technology Centre (NITC), and an industry steering group of 13 companies.

Stephen Fitzpatrick, Additive Manufacturing and Machining Lead at NMIS, said, “This project has real potential to deliver more efficient alternative manufacturing routes for aerospace companies, and will enable key industry drivers such as reduced embodied emissions, remanufacturing, and more resilient supply chains.”

An Airbus A380. Photo via Airbus.
An Airbus A380. Photo via Airbus.

The benefits of hybrid DED 3D printing

Critical aerospace parts, including those that make up an aircraft’s landing gear, have historically been produced via forging and machining. While this does lend itself to reliable, high-strength parts, the costs and lead times associated with conventional manufacturing mean there’s room for improvement.

The new hybrid DED technology is expected to streamline this manufacturing workflow, whereby users will be able to 3D print metal features directly onto forged and formed parts. It will combine the low costs of forging with the high throughput of forming, and add in the ability to produce complex 3D printing-specific geometries with minimal material waste. The process will also feature elements of parallel kinematic machine (PKM) techniques, integrating robotic arms for added dexterity.

Beyond just critical part fabrication, the hybrid DED approach will unlock a new route to component repair and remanufacture. Additionally, although it’s currently intended for the aerospace sector, the process will also be applicable to industries such as oil and gas, defense, and automotive.

Dr. Misael Pimentel, Manufacturing Engineer at NMIS, adds, “The use of AM coupled with forging and PKM technologies takes a transformative approach to this process, offering the potential to reduce lead time, production costs and material waste while supporting the drive towards net zero targets and creating a production model that genuinely contributes to a circular economy.”

A set of aircraft landing gear.
The hybrid DED 3D printing process will be used to produce critical parts such as landing gear components. Photo via Airbus.

The Hybrid DED Sprint project

NMIS and Cranfield University have already started leading the first two phases of the project, which will focus on delivering a demonstrator component later this year. The third phase, led by the NITC, will focus on integrating PKM machining. The final proof of concept phase will compare traditional and alternative manufacturing routes.

The steering group of companies is also working closely with NMIS, Cranfield University, and the NITC to ensure that the project deliverables are aligned with industry requirements, de-risking future steps such as part qualification and certification.

With projects like the Hybrid DED Sprint, additive manufacturing becomes ever-more suitable for aircraft part production. Last month, Russian state-owned industrial technology conglomerate Rostec received a license from the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade to serially 3D print aerospace parts. With the license, which reportedly allows the production and testing of components for civil airlines, Rostec has become the first Russian company to confirm its competence in deploying mass industrial 3D printing for the aviation sector. 

Elsewhere, aircraft locking mechanism manufacturer JPB Système has managed to drastically reduce the weight and lead time of aerospace parts during an initial round of 3D printing trials. In some use cases, switching to binder jetting has allowed it to make parts 30% lighter than before, while slashing their overall production time by as much as 80%. 

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Featured image shows aircraft landing gear. Photo via Airbus.